Posts Tagged to be continued

Three of Clubs: Jack Plugs

snowshoeThis is a continuation of the story which begins at Ten of Hearts: Double You

 I lean against the wall of the corridor and close my eyes for a few moments; trying to take it all in, trying not to let the tears out. I’ve been wishing for Cat to magically reappear for a year and a half, and now that the dream has come true ten times over, I don’t know how to feel. This is the dream of a sleeper, a disconnected, nonsensical dream.

Maybe I’m really dreaming, but I feel more awake than ever. Maybe I’m in virtual reality too. Maybe there is no reality.

I open my eyes to let something like reality in. The dark hallway isn’t enough to chase away the thoughts. I flick on the flashlight and scrutinise my surroundings for anything that would betray its fakeness. There are none of the tell-tale signs I can see in my own VR software. Something else catches my eye, though. There’s another door, further down the passage.

I dread what I might find there. Another ten Cats, older than the one I knew? Younger? I have had far too many surprises for one day, but I can’t help checking.

I turn the handle and push the door open slowly. For a few moments I stand there with the flashlight aimed at the floor, afraid of what I might see if I move it. I hear whispering.

The sibilant darkness is suddenly more scary than anything else I was imagining, so I shine my light across the room.

It’s me. Me from a few years ago apparently showing a few other mes what he could recognise of the VR suit. Me squinting at the light of my torch. Me trying not to start crying. Me looking at myself in shock.

“Holy carbonara… how many of us are there?” says one of the mes who was examining the suit.

“How did you get out of your suit?” asks another.

“Did you make these?” says the me from a few years ago.

I can’t speak. I shine the light around the room, carefully counting its inhabitants. Twelve, of different ages; more than enough to match the Cats in the other room. I know that I could never have substituted one of those Cats for my Cat, but it still hurts to know that there isn’t one left over for me.

“Hey, you… I mean me,” says a young teenaged version of myself. “Do you know what’s going on?”

I sit down with them, afraid that my legs won’t support me. “I wish I did.”

“Everything was perfectly normal up until a year and a half ago. Then some old guy… maybe it was granddad… he came and killed Cat and tried to kill me, but I killed him first.” Those of me who are old enough to know Cat gasp.

“Ever since… well, of course nothing’s been normal. I’ve just been living in here trying to make sense of it all. I guess I could have left, but I don’t feel ready to face the real world yet, and maybe be accused of murder. But then, there was this power cut… and the access control on the doors is shut down. So, out of curiosity… stupid curiosity… I came down here and found…” I try unsuccessfully to hold back a sob. It’s a strange feeling, being self-conscious when the only people watching me are myself. More self, more conscious.

“Yeah, we know the feeling. At least you got to open a door to find us. I was in the middle of taking a piss.”

I involuntarily look towards his crotch, wondering how such bodily functions work in whatever virtual reality system they were in. I look away in embarrassment, then wonder whether I should be embarrassed about looking at my own fabric-covered nether regions.

It seems like I’m in a stop-motion, each absurd thing that happens shocks me into inaction for a while. Eventually I recover my train of thought. “I mean… I don’t mean… you’re not the only ones.”

The other mes are not immune to being stunned.

“There’s another room… with ten copies of Cat.”

We stare at each other, wondering how to put our thoughts into words, and wondering whether we need to. I need them to. These people were living normal lives, living with Cat, or living in the lesser, ignorant bliss of never having met her. These people have spent several hours together, learning how they are the same, how they are different, how to behave with each other. I am a stranger in a crowd of myself.

A younger me breaks the silence by giggling. “So what are we waiting for? You should go see your giiirrrlfriends!” he chides. I remember that time. The thought of having a girlfriend was so disgusting, embarrassing, and enticingly mysterious.

“He’s right,” says a me about four years younger than myself. “I want to see her. Do you know how to disconnect these cables?” He jerks his head upwards to indicate the cable attached to his head, making it sway lightly.

“I don’t know. Looks like it’s going straight into your brain. I guess if there’s no power going through it anyway, we could just cut it. But I can’t guarantee I could repair it if you want to go back in. You know I’m not that good with hardware.”

“Do it,” he says. “I think I’ve had enough fake reality to last a lifetime. I want the real thing.”

It is only when I’m back in the corridor on the way to get wire cutters that I remember Cat’s pain relief. The retreat is pretty well stocked with medicine, to avoid unnecessary contact with the high-tech outside world. We haven’t needed to use much of it, but it’s reassuring to know it’s there.

There’s no power for the computer which would have dispensed just the right amount of this or that drug. No power for the lock holding the machine closed either. I open it up and see the neat columns of capsules in their sterile plastic compartments.

Two columns are almost empty. I don’t want to think about why. It’s too much. I’m just going to take these last few painkillers to Cat, and worry about the rest when my life has regained some sanity.

To be continued…

Read the rest of this entry »

, , ,

1 Comment

Queen of Clubs: A History of the Large Hadron Collider, part I: Conception

Between March 21 and 27, 1984, theorists, experimentalists, accelerator physicists, and experts in superconducting magnets gathered for a workshop in Lausanne and Geneva. They were not there to discuss the Large Electron Positron collider, for which excavation of a 27km near-circular tunnel would soon begin at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. They had come to discuss a possible playmate for the LEP, a collider of protons and perhaps antiprotons to be installed alongside the LEP in the same tunnel. Some nicknamed it the Juratron, after the Jura mountains under which part of it would pass. Officially, it was known as the Large Hadron Collider, or LHC.

The LHC would accelerate protons to an energy of up to 9 TeV, more than nine million times the energy of a proton at rest. To keep such high energy particles on course in a ring as small as the LEP, the LHC would need superconducting magnets with a magnetic field of 10 Tesla, about 2000 times the strength of a refrigerator magnet (pictured.) The superconductor technology available at the time could theoretically be extended to create magnetic fields of up to 6 or 7 Tesla, but substantial new developments would be necessary to reach the required 10 Tesla.

Carlo Rubbia concluded the workshop with the statement, “Perhaps the time has come for us to pause, at least until the magnet, accelerator, and detector issues have made some significant progress.” There would be no playmate for LEP just yet, but it would come.

The LEP tunnel was made big enough to fit two accelerators. By the end of 1986, only half a kilometre of it remained to be dug. A preliminary technical study on the possibility of building the LHC on top of the LEP was carried out, and it seemed like a better deal than the alternative proposition of a 1 TeV linear electron-positron collider. With the LHC and LEP together, electron-positron collisions, electron-proton and proton-proton collisions would all be possible, with protons injected by CERN’s existing proton accelerators. Nobody had managed to make strong enough superconducting magnets yet, but there was optimism that it was possible.

In 1987, the first LEP magnet was installed in the newly-completed tunnel, and the first model of an LHC dipole magnet was made. To save space and money, the two opposing proton beams would pass through separate channels within the same magnet. Studies were underway of the possibilty of using either niobium-titanium or niobium-tin for the magnets, or perhaps the recently developed ‘high temperature’ superconductors. The next year, a niobium-titanium superconducting magnet was made which could provide a magnetic field of more than 9 Tesla. It was hoped that the LHC would be able to reach an energy comparable to the 20 TeV of the Superconducting Super Collider being built in Texas.

In the early afternoon of Bastille day 1989, physicists were jublilant to see the evidence of the first beam of positrons sent around the LEP: an unassuming white oval on a blue screen. But for all the eyes fixed on the LEP, more than ever were looking forward to its companion, the LHC.

Many studies were carried out on the feasibility of the superconducting magnets, cryogenics, and civil engineering that would be required. All confirmed that such a machine could indeed be constructed. Two models of LHC dipole magnets in niobium titanium, and one in niobium-tin, both produced fields of around 9.4 Tesla. A cost estimation and construction schedule for the LHC were established: it could be put into service by 1998, while only slightly disturbing the functioning of the LEP.

In 1990, more detailed plans of the LHC were prepared, and delegates from CERN member states proposed the idea to their respective states, expecting a decision by 1992. A timely decision would mean that the LHC could start operations in 1998, as predicted, for a cost comparable to that of the LEP. With 9 metre magnets creating a field of 10 Tesla, it would collide two beams of protons with an energy of up to 7.7 TeV each. Four prototype 1 metre long 10 Tesla dipole magnets were ordered from four different companies. A life-sized prototype was constructed, with a field strength of 7.5 Tesla.

On 20 December, 1991, the CERN council unanimously approved the LHC project. By that time, thousands of hours of on supercomputers had been spent simulating the interactions that would occur in the LHC. The council asked that all technical and financial details be worked out by 1993.

Preparations picked up momentum in 1992. A conference in March on the LHC attracted 600 scientists. In October, the LHC Experiments Committee received letters of intent for three possible LHC experiments: ATLAS (A Toroidal LHC Apparatus), CMS (Compact Muon Solenoid) and L3P (Lepton and Photon Precision Physics.)

Although the required 10 Tesla field had already been achieved, it was considered too difficult to maintain. Therefore the decision was taken to elongate the dipole magnets to 13.5 metres by deplacing other elements. This would increase the time that the protons were exposed to the field, lowering the necessary field strength to 9.5 Tesla.

In 1993, two of the proposed experiments, CMS and ATLAS were approved, along with a new proposition, ALICE (A Large Ion Collider Experiment.) In December 1993, exactly two years after the council’s approval of the LHC, the requested information was presented. Construction could soon begin.

Read the rest of this entry »

, , , ,

Leave a comment

Jack of Hearts: Jack


A Jack of Hearts with an X and the words 'in the world'

The following is a sequel to Ten of Hearts: Double You.

A fair-haired man enters and plays a flashlight over the room. He stops dead as the light finds the face of the oldest of us.

I fight to open my eyes against the burning light. Before it blinded me, I saw something tantalisingly familiar in the man’s gait. When my eyes finally consent to staying open, they see only a bright light against darkness.

The light falls with the sound of a collapsing body, and spreads a gloomy half-light across the floor. I rush toward the unconscious intruder. It’s Jack, or almost Jack… he seems older. I stroke his forehead until his eyes also manage to open again. He looks at me as though he is lost in a familiar place.

After a minute, he pulls away abruptly. “Cat, I killed someone. Did you see?”


The others’ reactions remind me that we are not alone in the room.

“Get away from him!” I squeal. I’m eight. I don’t want the big me to be killed. I run toward her and try to drag her away, but she doesn’t move. A six-year-old me comes to help.

“What?” This time it is the man who is surprised. I look at him defiantly.

“He tried to kill me first! I’m a good guy… I think,” he protests.

I look at the big me. “It’s okay,” she says. “I know him. He won’t hurt us. His name’s Jack.”

I relax my grip, but stay at her side.

We listen to the rest of his story.

“About a year and a half ago, I woke up to an old man trying to inject me with something. We struggled, and eventually I injected him with it. He went to sleep immediately. I watched him sleeping. He looked like my grandfather. God, it was awful, thinking I’d killed my grandfather.” His voice is beginning to quaver. “So I tried to wake him, I tried so hard…” his words clump into sobs.

We watch, trying to make sense of the new layer of strangeness. Trying to remember our lives, trying to get back to them.

“But now… I went to heaven anyway…” Jack manages to squeeze past the lump in his throat.

The youngest of us starts crying with him.

“Heaven?” I’m the oldest. The oldest in a group of time-travelling versions of myself. What does that mean? “I was there too, wasn’t I?”

“Yes… yes, of course you were there… you know, don’t you?”

I see my worst fears in his eyes.

“While I was fighting the man, he said… he said, ‘you don’t know how much you want this.'” He paused to find enough calm air to speak again. “After it was over, I realised he was right. You were already dead. I’m so sorry…” Jack buries his face in my lap and weeps.
For a while we just sit there, watching him cry. He is a stranger to most of us, but we can’t help feeling his grief, and mixing it with own for our lost lives.
“Hey, were you in virtual reality too?” I ask. I’m ten, and I’ve been thinking hard to take my mind of my sore knee. It hasn’t really worked, but I have some ideas.

This gets through his despair. “Smart kid… you know all about VR? I used to make virtual reality stuff. I made a lot of money from it. So yes, I’ve been in it.”

“No, I mean… cool, you know all about it? This thing I’m wearing, it’s a virtual reality suit, right?”

Jack looks at me for the first time. He picks up the torch and points it at each of us in turn. “Holy… how many of you are there?”

“Ten”, I say. “I think we were in virtual reality, or else we travelled in time…”

“I don’t think… I don’t think people wear things like that in heaven. Hell, I don’t even believe in heaven! I think you’re right! Let me have a look at that.” He speaks with a new-found jubilance. He gets up and walks toward me.

He sits down next to me and starts examining my suit.

“Wow, it’s… this must be… how did…”

I scream in pain as he prods at my left knee, and instinctively bend it away from him, which makes it hurt even more.

“I’m sorry, I…”
Some of us cry in sympathy, some in surprise.
“She has a broken kneecap. Do you have any painkillers?” I say. At 18, I’m the second eldest.

“I think so… let me go check.”

“Wait!” I call after him. “Check where? Where are we anyway? Can we go with you?”

“I guess so…” he replies. “You’re… I’m at a retreat, from technology.”

“Already?” I remember suggesting the idea to him; it would be a giant art project, an adventure in the past. I walk with him toward the door.

“I’ve been here for about three and a half years, but there was…”

I feel a gentle tension pulling me back inside, the tingling I used to get at the top of my head when I ran too fast and breathed too little. The cable linking me to the ceiling is fully unwound.

Jack looks up at the cables for the first time, and follows them up with his flashlight. The light is too weak to reach the top. “Wow,” he gasps.

“Please…” calls the ten-year-old. “It hurts!”

“Okay, I’m going to get some stuff. I’ll be right back,” he promises as he leaves.

Here we are again, ten hearts, one name, alone with ourselves. Twenty hazel eyes staring into the darkness. A few more facts and millions more unknowns.

To be continued

Read the rest of this entry »

, ,

1 Comment

Ten of Hearts: Double You

Here we are. Ten hearts, beating silently. Twenty legs, some abruptly collapsed onto the floor. Twenty hands, grasping at lost sensations. Ten heads, linked to flexible cables suspended from above like the strings of ten marionnettes. Twenty hazel eyes, staring into the darkness.

Twenty eyes which were just moments ago watching gummi bears leap around
on a screen, watching the world whiz by from a swing, watching the teacher form the letter W on the blackboard, tracking an approaching ball, streaming tears from the pain of a broken knee, gazing down at polished shoes on the school stage while the students clapped, closing in embarrassment for a first kiss, glazing over in front of an educational video, closing in rapture during an embrace with our soulmate, opening wide in terror.

The cries of the youngest hit our ears before our eyes have adjusted. A sound made by one, forgotten by some, not quite familiar to others. We begin to see each other, ourselves. Some recognise past selves, some gape at the slow recognition of future selves. Some are too young to know that the others have separate thoughts.

We look at each other questioningly, trying to find the right words to say, and wondering whether we need to say them once they’re found.

“Are you me?” I say. I’m twelve, nearly thirteen. I think I wished myself here, to escape the humiliation of standing in front of assembly with my art prize.

All are unsure. Those close to each other in age answer similarly. All who answer answer positively. We are Cat Diesch. We were born on October 10, 2010 to Rose and Macy Diesch. We have no siblings. We enjoy painting, fireworks, and nectarines. We are sitting in a dark room with nine other versions of ourselves, at different ages.

More questions follow. Did we travel through time? How can we travel back? Did we die? Did we all break our kneecaps at ten years old? Only the last gets an answer, so we quiz each other on our lives. We all lived the same one. We each lived it until August 10. Each in a different year, always two years apart. The younger ones are warned not to play rugby, for a broken kneecap is painful.

Very painful. I am ten, and though my world disappeared, my knee still hurts, and my eyes are still streaming with tears. “I want to go back to the hospital,” I plead. Nobody says anything; we know that we have no answer. Less than an hour ago my leg was in a splint, now it is covered with the same smooth, squishy black fabric as the rest of our bodies. As an older me comes to comfort me, I notice the cord linking her to the ceiling unwinds so that she is free to move toward me.

A recently-read novel is still fresh in my mind. “It’s like some kind of virtual reality suit. Do you have that in the future?” I ask my older selves. The one who spoke first says, “Oh yeah, like in… what’s it… World of the World Builders!”

The older ones smile at the spark of a much-enjoyed book lighting up their memory.

“Nothing like this.” I say. I’m eighteen. I tinker with the graphics for the virtual reality software my boyfriend is making for his Master project. He just uses goggles, earpieces, gloves, and some basic neural stimulation.

We ponder in silence for a while, watching the two youngest play together. Our thoughts are like ten flautists playing different tunes, each trying to make sense of the same shrouded score.

“Did I stay with Jason forever?” I ask. I’m fourteen, and I know Jason and I are meant for each other. But after exchanging puzzled looks, my older selves burst out laughing.

“Jason… oh my God, that kid? He was…” They stop when they see the look on my face.

“I remember,” says a sixteen-year-old me. “It feels important now, but believe me, it totally isn’t.”

“And you end up with someone much better,” say the two oldest in unison.

“Who?” I ask. “What’s he like? Is he cute?”

The click of a door interrupts our retrogressive reminiscence.


To be continued

Read the rest of this entry »

, ,


%d bloggers like this: